Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth

Previously on Hellbound: Hellraiser II...

Our intrepid heroine Kirsty Cotton became besties with Pinhead and the Cenobite Crew, who then all went on to get slaughtered by a guy with a vagina tentacle growing out of his head. Also a mute girl did stuff... I think, honestly I have absolutely NO IDEA what happened. Sure looked cool, though.

The second Hellraiser movie came out in 1988, amidst its distributor New World Pictures having major financial issues that resulted in a massive slash and burn on the budget. Fast forward four years later to 1992 and New World Pictures had completely gone under, and the rights to the franchise now resided in the hands of famed Dimension Films. They brought back director Tony Randel and writer Peter Atkins to make a third movie, but decided Randel wasn't experienced enough so replaced him with Anthony Hickox. Hickox was famous at the time for directing the horror series Waxwork, a moderately successful series that was a borderline parody of the genre.

Atkins was kept on to write the script, which I'm not sure is a good thing considering how mind bogglingly absurd his previous one was. However, he did end that movie on a cliffhanger of sorts so maybe he had a bigger story in mind that'll tie up all the loose ends from- HAHAH, I couldn't even say that with a straight face. Buckle up folks, it's time for A Ghoul Versus Hellraiser III: Hell On Earth!

Right from the word go this movie already disappoints me as the credits inform us that Randy Miller has taken over music duties from the excellent Christopher Young. Not that Miller is bad or anything, but Young's music had a very vital role in setting the tone of the series so far. This letdown is more than made up by Terry Farrell's name appearing in the credits, because I freaking LOVE her. You hopefully know her from her FLAWLESS work as Jadzia Dax on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and if you don't, you should go watch the entire series immediately. It's okay, I'll wait here.

You back? Amazing, right? I think it's the best of all the Star Trek shows, which is really saying- oh hold on, there's a movie review or something I'm supposed to be doing right now isn't there? We open up with A Really Cool Guy pulling up outside a building called the Pyramid Gallery. We can tell he's really cool because he's wearing a leather jacket and tilts his head to the side as he stylishly lights a cigarette.

It's late at night but the door is unlocked, so he strolls in to admire the exhibits on display. His attention is drawn to a rotating stone pillar that greatly resembles the Pillar of Souls from the previous movies. The hobo shows up behind him, played by a completely different actor once again, asking Cool Guy if he wants it. For some reason Cool Guy plays along with this, buying it from THE HOMELESS PERSON OFF THE STREET. Damn, I have got to track down Cool Guy myself, I have this really cool bridge in Brooklyn I'd love to sell him...

Elsewhere in the city we get introduced to Farrell's character, Joey Summerskill. She is a hilariously sarcastic TV reporter and instantly has more personality than any single other character in the series to date. She's slumming it up at a hospital for a story she could care less about, as she's constantly getting passed over for the big stories. On her way out a man is rushed past her on a gurney, his bloody body covered in hooked chains.

Her Reporter Sense tingling, she tries to follow the orderlies but is denied access. She turns her attention to the man's girlfriend, who keeps babbling it wasn't her fault and she found him like that. Joey asks where he was, learning it was a club called the Boiler Room. Their conversation is interrupted by an explosion in the operating room, Joey running in to see his chains are now electrified and whipping around the room. They end up DETONATING his head in a sweet looking effect, as you can already see the higher budget Dimension Films afforded the movie is being utilized.

The next night she hits up the club in hopes of finding out more information from the girlfriend, finding herself on the set of Every Late 80s Hair Metal Band video ever. Real life band Armored Saint is performing their song “Hanging Judge”, as this entire movie has a heavy metal soundtrack because that's what was popular in 1992. This isn't a criticism per se because there are some really good songs in the movie, but it just feels SO out of place in a Hellraiser movie.

She tracks down the owner of the club, JP Monroe, who is revealed as Cool Guy. JP is played by Kevin Bernhardt, an actor and screenwriter who was most famously married to pop singer Apollonia. He is of no help, trying to flirt with Joey but she shoots him down by telling him she's not his type because she's out of grade school. HA! Oh, Terry Farrell you are fucking perfect. We then cut to... Full Metal Jacket?! We see a group of soldiers in Vietnam getting mowed down by gunfire while Joey watches them, looking resplendent in a long white dress. This is quickly revealed as a nightmare, as one of the men who got shot was her father.

This abrupt break in the narrative is interrupted by Joey's phone ringing, the dead man's girlfriend Terri calling her to arrange a meeting. Terri is played by Paula Marshall, who has had a very solid television career for the past two decades but that all takes a back seat because she was in the LEGENDARY Lindsay Lohan movie I Know Who Killed Me. You can most definitely expect a review of that one someday, because it's quite possibly the most insane thing ever captured by a camera. Fun fact: I saw that in a theater in Boston on opening night and I was THE ONLY PERSON that showed up for the entire screening.

Terri ends up staying with Joey because she has nowhere else to go, and instead of getting back to the plot the women discuss the Vietnam dream. It's a recurring dream that Joey has, and I'm SURE won't end up being relevant at the end of the movie. Nope, no way. This scene goes on WAY too long until Joey finally cuts to the chase, Terri rambling on about a statue and then pulls a particular puzzle box out of her bag.

Speaking of the statue, we cut to JP investigating it. Sticking his hand through the hole where the Lament Configuration was, he gets attacked by a horribly fake rat that spills his blood all over the column. We watch as the blood flows into Pinhead's mouth, his stone visage flashing menacingly. The next morning Terri takes Joey to the Pyramid Gallery, only this time the door is locked. Terri turns into the Master of Lockpicking and gets them inside, the women going through the file cabinets for any kind of information about the pillar.

They find evidence that leads them to the Channard Institute, Joey learning about a video tape Kirsty Cotton made that she very much wants to see. Another Terri scene follows, which is pretty much the kiss of death for the movie so far thanks to her acting, so I fast forward to see what JP's up to. We see him having very awkward looking sex with a beautiful blonde woman he picked up at his club, and then tries to kick her out when he's done. She gets revenge by torturing him with some EXTREMELY bad acting that already has me regretting skipping Terri.

The pillar, which is kept in JP's bedroom, gets as tired of blondie as I am so it sprouts some hooks and EATS HER to shut her up. Pinhead, he's not the hero we deserve but he's the hero we NEED. Pinhead's face comes to life, offering JP power if he helps him return to life. At the news station Joey gets a package containing the tape, rushing to a monitor to play it. The video is of Kirsty explaining the powers of the puzzle box until the image is interrupted by Pinhead's human form which speaks directly to Joey, telling her Kirsty is telling the truth. I'm not even going to comment on how this is possible, it's only been half an hour. Let's give this thing another thirty minutes before I start asking questions.

While this is going on, Terri is alone at Joey's house so naturally she starts playing with the box. You'd think after it just killed her friend she'd be a little wary of it, but naaaaaah. I guess I can't blame her, it is REALLY shiny. JP calls and invites her over, but to her credit she refuses. Hahah, just kidding. She goes over. JP is pretty freaking hot, just because he's creepy as hell and treated her like shit in the past is no reason to pass up those dreamy eyes of his.

Another Vietnam dream pops up to bring the film crashing to a halt again, only this time human Pinhead shows up to talk to Joey. Before she gets a chance to hear what he has to say, she wakes up to her TV emitting static. Pinhead is on the screen, asking for her help. The movie returns to JP and Terri, and good God this is edited horribly. It started off pretty strong, but has gone downhill steadily since then. I'm not as bored as I by the first movie, but I'm getting there. JP tries to feed Terri to his statue, but she pulls out a pair of brass knuckles and fights him off. Nice! Her character is finally getting some redemption after being boring and stupid!

She starts to leave the room, but Pinhead yells at her to stop. He offers her a better life, and all she has to do is feed JP to him. I like that Pinhead isn't putting all of his eggs into one basket, but WHY is he bothering with any of this? Did he forget he has chains that he can use to grab anyone he wants? Or maybe when he ensnared the blonde woman it put his powers into a cool down period that's taking too long? Nope, that can't be it because as soon as Terri pushes JP in front of the pillar the hooks emerge and snag him. Alright, maybe you have to be DIRECTLY in front of the pillar, I'll give the movie this one.

Terri's sacrifice does the trick, as the pillar shatters and heeeeeeeeere's Pinhead. He extends his hand to Terri in what is EASILY the best shot in the movie so far. Joey, who fell asleep after her TV started talking to her, wakes up again as her radio is now playing. She gets a message from Pinhead telling her to go to her window, opening the curtains to see Pinhead playing with the box just like in the opening of the last movie. She steps through the window, which has now become a portal to the otherworld.

As she draws closer to him she sees he's frozen in place, but the wall opens up to lead her into the Vietnam dream. Pinhead is again waiting for her AND CAN WE PLEASE STOP THIS TRAIL OF BREADCRUMBS SHIT?! Pinhead has contacted Joey through a VCR, through a TV, through a dream, through a radio, through Hellraiser II, and now through a dream again! I don't want to say they're padding this movie out, but what they're doing is padding the movie out.

Psyche! Pinhead starts walking away, Joey walking through piles of dead soldiers after him. SHE FINALLY gets to him, and he FINALLY talks to her straight up. He reveals his name was Captain Elliott Spencer- no wait, Elliot Spenser. Hold on that's not right, it's Eliot Spencer. Or is it? Yes, fans are rather torn on the spelling of the name. Hell, even Doug Bradley's OFFICIAL WEBSITE has it spelled as both Spenser and Spencer. I am going with Elliot Spencer because that's what it says in the credits, and that's good enough for me.

Joey asks the question we've all had on our minds since Frank Cotton got ripped to shreds, “What the hell is going on?”. Spencer finally fills us in on some back story, that after the Vietnam war he was broken until he came across the box. After opening it he became a servant of Hell, having forgotten his human past. He served for decades, following the rules that whoever opened the box be subjected to Hell's wrath. He does mention the truly innocent were safe, which completely contradicts the Cenobites trying to kill Kirsty in the first two movies, but whatever.

After he tried to save Kirsty from Channard his soul was set free, but the evil in him that was Pinhead was too powerful to go away so it hid in the pillar. And now Pinhead is free on Earth, no longer bound by Hell's rules. The only way to stop him is to use the box to lure him to her apartment and then force him through the portal in her window, where Spencer can deal with him once and for all...or rather this movie.

Hey neat, an hour in and we finally have a plot! The stakes are in place, there's character goals and motivations, too bad this thing's almost over. Pinhead rolls into the Boiler Room to get his drink on and score some digits, which I mean literally. Chains start pouring out of everywhere, tearing one guy's fingers off. Tons of death porn follows, the highlight of is the club DJ getting chopped up by his own CDs.

Now back at home, Joey watches news of the massacre unfold on her TV. She calls her cameraman named Doc to meet her at the club, grabbing the box and taking off. Umm, why? Spencer told her Pinhead wants to destroy the box because it's the only thing that can stop him, so why would she bring it right to him? Why not just wait in her apartment where the freaking portal is, instead of whatever crazy bullshit she likely has planned? As she closes the door the camera pans down to show us the TV was unplugged the entire time. Dun dun duuuu- wait, what? I get Pinhead is luring her into a trap, but if he's that powerful why doesn't he just- hmm, I'm doing it again aren't I?

Joey pulls up to the front of the Boiler Room, which is now completely deserted along with having Doc's empty car in front of it. She walks up to the club like “What up? I got a puzzle box forged in the fires of Hell!”, but is only greeted with a likely literal ton of dead bodies. This is just fantastic, just like the first movie you can tell what parts of this film they really gave a damn about. Shot after shot of twisted corpses follows, all artfully arranged to create a tone of absolute dread. This is greatly aided by Farrell's great acting, as you can tell she is trying her hardest not to lose her shit as she advances deeper into the building.

In a candle filled room she finds Doc among the dead, Pinhead choosing this moment to show up and start bragging. He demands the box, saying if she hands it over he'll kill her mercifully. See the gimmick here is he can't take the box directly, he has to be given it... for some reason. But once again since he's no longer bound by Hell's rules I'll give this one a pass too. Joey runs outside, Pinhead making various obstacles on the street spring to life and attack her. This feels a LOT like A Nightmare On Elm Street right now, for those of your keeping score. Probably afraid of getting sued, Pinhead changes tactics and begins sending Cenobites after her. First up is Doc, who now has a camera lens sticking out of one of his eyes. A camera missile launcher, that is. HELL YEAH!

Cenobite DJ is next, dispersing bladed CDs out of a disc drive in his chest. I probably laughed at this for three straight minutes, remember when this series was about extreme torture with heavy sadomasochistic overtones? Well yeah, now it's about a guy shooting killer CDs out of his chest. Not so far Joey, there's still Cenobite Bartender and his dreaded Cocktail Mixer of Death! Was this like a fan contest or something? “Make the most batshit crazy Cenobite you can think of?”.

The police show up, but are about as effective as you'd imagine. After killing all of the cops present, Doc quips “That's a wrap!” as I quickly eject the movie to make sure I wasn't watching a Freddy movie after all. Don't get me wrong, this is FUN AS FUCK but I can't believe for a microsecond this was written by the same man who wrote the last one. Joey ducks into a church to hide, the kindly priest there asking what's wrong. She starts stammering about the demons, but he tells her there's no such thing. Cue Pinhead kicking in the door and Joey cracking “Then what the fuck is that?”. Hahah, this movie totally rules! I don't even care it gave up on being a Hellraiser film about twenty minutes ago.

While Pinhead screws with the priest for the Hell of it (ba dum tiss!), Joey runs off to a construction site where she encounters the Cenobite versions of Terri and JP. They surround her but she manages to open the box, which begins shooting off beams of light that kill all the Cenobites, including Pinhead. She asks Spencer out loud if that did the trick, since she didn't take him through her window. The box flashes and she finds herself in Vietnam, only this time it's all bright and peaceful with her father alive. He tells her he was sent by someone to see her, and that she'd have something for him that she wouldn't need anymore. Gee, I really hope this isn't a trap or anything. I'll just ignore the fact the soundtrack is playing ominous music rather than happy time tunes. Sadly I guess Joey is anxious to exchange the box for an Idiot Ball, so she hands the box over to her “dad”.

Of course she doesn't realize until he's holding it that she fucked up, as he transforms into Pinhead. And let me tell you: Pinhead standing in a brightly lit grass field? Looks silly as fuck, Mr. Hickox. Joey turns into an eight year old, crying and yelling that this “isn't fair”. Come on movie, why you gotta do that to our strong heroine? Instead of just kiling her though, Pinhead starts yammering on about whatever, mentioning the word “window” during whatever he's on about.  This triggers something in Joey, and she... teleports them into Spencer's realm? Uhh... They attempt to justify this with Pinhead coming through the “window” of her mind to read her memories about her father... but that doesn't make an ounce of sense so let's just say they failed HARD at an explanation. Spencer and Pinhead begin grappling, and then merge into a Cenobite via some kick ass make up work. It appears Pinhead won the matchup, but Spencer's face briefly appears to tell her to use the box to send him back to Hell.

She grabs the box and turns it into the diamond shape it had for most of the last movie, using the sharp end to stab Pinhead in the heart. He gets sucked into the box, which transforms back into it's cube shape. Joey is transported back to the construction site, hiding the box in a vat of wet cement so someone else can find it and star in a movie of their own.  Wow, that was nice of her! The film jumps ahead to much later, where a skyscraper now exists over the site. The camera pans inside as we see much of the interiors mirror the design of the box before the screen cuts to black.

Cue the credits, set to the bad ass song “Hellraiser” by Motorhead which featured a music video directed by Clive Barker.

Most fans point to this movie where the franchise went off the rails, and I'm inclined to agree. The only thing this really has in common with the previous films was the characters, as the tone and overall feel are so wildly different. But I don't necessarily see this as a bad thing, because once this movie got going it was A BLAST. Starting off with the must see club scene, this movie went with “over the top” awesome, which experts all agree is the best kind of awesome. It sets up a new premise of Pinhead constantly trying to get back to Earth and create legions of crazy ass Cenobites, which they can easily milk for another few movies. I have no idea if that's where they go with this, but I'm now very much interested to see if they do.

This wasn't all good though, the first hour of this movie is largely boring with only Farrell working her ass off to try to keep you vested in anything going on. Doug Bradley was excellent as well, as you can tell he REALLY cherished getting to play two radically different characters. Everyone else though... yikes. Anytime Terri is on the screen this movie got bad in a hurry, and unfortunately she was in a lot of scenes early on.  Once again the story was utter nonsense, although it was easily the most cohesive one yet as we got some explanation of what was transpiring. It didn't explain why they totally ignored the last movie's cliffhanger or why the pillar turned into a stone statue, but I've long since learned not to walk into a Hellraiser movie expecting a story.

I think the last act of the movie is enough to make up for all these shortcomings though, so this is the second straight Hellraiser film I give a strong recommendation to. Hell, everything could have been awful and I'd still recommend it for the club scene because that even topped the mausoleum scene from Hellbound. Can we make it a trifecta of three straight enjoyable movies with the next one?

No, no we cannot.